Boxing Day Floods

One of the tasks from the Wild Words course I did was to write about flooding. In York, in 2015, there were awful floods which affected many people and areas that aren’t usually flooded. York does flood regularly but this was the worst I’ve seen in.

Boxing Day Floods, York

Source: York Flood Inquiry

December 2015
wettest month
since records began
Ouse and Foss catchment

Boxing Day:
unprecedented situation on the Foss

                       weekend Bank Holiday
                       middle of Christmas

challenge escalates

27th BT exchange

loss of landlines internet
mobile phones
no electronic communication
                        misinformation can take hold

four hundred and fifty three
residential properties
one hundred and seventy four

remarkable efforts
generosity community spirit
assistance offered quickly
unstintingly. Donations
                       local, national

spontaneous volunteers
‘unwavering response from responders’
praised for dedication and contribution

thirteen thousand sandbags
                       builders’ merchants very helpful
                       opened depots on request

voluntary sector:
                        evacuation-meals-shelter-warmth-assisting with clean up-warehousing and distributing donated goods-practical emotional recovery support

no warning

‘Recovery from flooding does not simply end
when people move back into their homes.’

problems with insurance claims
managing builders
living in a state of disrepair

long-term issues identified:
                       respiratory problems made worse- mental health problems exacerbated-disruption to home-lost personal possessions-strain of moving in with family-strain of being separated from family-breakdown of relationships-financial pressures-lost ability to earn-went out of business

problems do not recede as quickly as water

York will flood again
an inevitability

‘York as a community would benefit from becoming more resilient
and better prepared for an emergency situation.’

Ancraophobia, fear of the wind

Ancraophobia is the extreme fear of wind.  This is not a word for me.  I don’t fear the wind. But I am not comfortable with it either. I feel attacked by the wind. I feel small. I want to retreat, hide, and escape.

Ancraophobia is never present at birth. The fear of wind most often arises as a result of a negative experience in the person’s past… Most often an ancraophobic person experienced a situation where the wind was blowing heavily and they found themselves afraid that the wind might destroy or kill them.
Wikipedia, accessed 29th January 2020

When I was 7 or 8, there was a horrific storm.  It was Christmas Eve and the power cut out.  For some reason that I no longer recall, my dad had to go outside.  The wind was screeching, lightning striking and the sky was crashing almost in time to the flashes.

I was terrified for my dad.  He was out in this hellish tornado, surrounded by trees, and who knows what was caught in the wind.  I had seen Wizard of Oz a few times.  I knew about hurricanes. 

He had been outside for years.  Hours at least.  I was scared.  I opened my mouth but fear held back the words. It took a few tries before I could raise my concerns with my mother. 

Looking back, I can see she was also afraid. But she snapped at me.  Told me off.  Made me more terrified. My teeth bit down on my lips and my fingers curled, nails in skin. Eyes kept on staring into the storm.

I was already petrified, unable to move from my place, on guard at the window.  I didn’t need someone to yell at me and tell me not to be so stupid.  It had taken so much for me to ask. To ask if she thought he was ok. I didn’t need to be knocked down.

I had visions flashing through my childhood imagination.  My dad knocked unconscious.  My dad trapped under a tree. My dad squashed by a fallen wall. 

I needed to be told he hadn’t been gone very long.  I needed to be told he was ok.  I needed her to be the adult.  To act unafraid, even if she was.  I needed to know that in a fight between my dad and the wind, he would win.  Not to be shouted at to shut up.  I went quiet, silent and alone with my fears.  And that silence was filled with the bawling wind and the cracks of trees just a couple of metres from the house.

I stood between window and curtains, trying to turn the shadows into familiar shapes. Peering into the darkness, knowing I couldn’t have seen him even if he was there. 

I am not afraid of the wind. I am afraid of the power it has inside my imagination. The destructive whirlwind that rips through my imagination and decimates my safety net.

I am not afraid of the wind.

I am afraid my dad might lose the fight.

Written as part of the Wild Words: Place and Environment Writing course.

The thick taste of petrichor

This is a fragment of my writing from the Emergence nature writing course I am currently doing.

The thick taste of petrichor

Microorganisms in the soil – actinobacteria – decompose dead and decaying matter, turning the no longer living into nutrients and life – the fantastic, eternal, circle of life. 

And as they do this, they create a kind of alcohol called geosmin, to which our noses are very sensitive.  This is one of the compounds that creates the smell of rain, earthy and nostalgic.

When it is dry, they are less active, when the air is humid and the ground is moist they speed up, releasing more geosmin.  So what we are breathing in is the recycling of life, the cycle of life and death and rebirth, the cycle of ransformation.  We are smelling the process by which a tree becomes food for a daffodil and the bones of a rabbit become a nutrients for a carrot.

It is also a signal, a sign of a symbiotic partnership that has played out over and over for almost 500 million years.

The bacteria release the odour to attract a specific arthropod, a Springtail, which responds by eating it.  This is less suicidal than it appears.  Bacteria spores stick to the Springtail and get relocated, as do those excreted in faeces.  This helps the bacteria to spread and create new colonies.

Next time you smell the lush, slightly salty, tang of rain, spare a moment for the minute lives whose drama is plays out beneath our feet.

The Wind

I tried to explain once, to a friend who turned out not to be a friend, that the wind feels like it’s attacking me, personally.  The friend who turned out not to be a friend mocked me.  I was feeling attacked all round.  It hurt. 

It’s a hard thing to tell someone you don’t like the wind.  And it’s more than not liking.  It’s deeper.  More instinctive.  I fear the wind.  And being mocked did nothing to alleviate that fear.

Wikipedia has an entry for ancraophobia, also known as anemophobia, which is an extreme fear of wind or drafts and can cause panic attacks and avoidant behaviour. This is not me.  

Perhaps I don’t fear the wind.  Perhaps my awful feeling is a natural response to feeling attacked.  I feel like I want to retreat.  I want to hide.  I want to escape.

It’s not all wind.  A slight breeze is fine.  It’s the heavy, pushy gusts that I don’t like.

That wiki page goes on to say:

Ancraophobia is never present at birth. The fear of wind most often arises as a result of a negative experience in the person’s past. This experience may or may not be recalled in the conscious mind of the person but this has been imprinted on the subconscious mind. Most often an ancraophobic person experienced a situation where the wind was blowing heavily and they found themselves afraid that the wind might destroy or kill them.

When I was little, I might have been about 8, there was a horrific storm.  It was Christmas Eve and the power cut out.  For some reason or other that I no longer recall, my dad had to go outside in this storm.  The wind was screeching, there was thunder and lightening.  I was scared for my dad.  He was out in this hell and surrounded by trees and who knows what was caught in the wind.  I had seen Wizard of Oz a few times.  I knew about hurricanes.  This was not far off.  He had been outside for what felt like years.  Hours at least.  I was scared.  Tentatively I raised my concerns with my mother. 

A mistake.  Looking back I can see she was scared.  But she snapped at me.  She told me off.  She made me feel more afraid.  I was already scared.  I didn’t need someone to yell at me and tell me not to be so stupid.  It had taken a lot for me to ask if she thought he was ok.  I was scared.  I had a hundred and one visions flashing through my child’s imagination.  Dad knocked unconscious.  Dad under a fallen tree. Dad under a fallen wall.  I needed to be told he hadn’t been gone very long.  I needed to be told he was ok.  I needed her to be the adult.  To act unafraid, even if she was.  I needed to know that in a fight between my dad and the wind, he would win.  Not to be shouted at to shut up.  I went quiet, silent with my imagination and my fears and that silence was filled with the screaming wind and the cracks of trees outside the window.

So when my friend mocked me, she mocked that little girl who was afraid that her dad had been killed by the wind and that her mother didn’t know how to be a mum.

But maybe it was more than a difficult experience.  As late as the 1900s in America, there was an idea that night air is poisonous.  That breathing it in would damage your health, to the extent that leaving the window open at night was a step too far.  Think about the word malaria, it comes from the words bad air.  Air is bad.  This belief may have travelled over from Europe where various types of winds were associated with illness and death.

Going back as far as the ancient Greeks, there was a belief that the type of winds that affected an area also affected the health of the residents.  For example, hot winds were linked with excessive menstruation and irritable bowels.  Hippocrates wrote about winds and health, saying:

“Those cities which are faced towards the sunrise are healthier than those which are faced towards the North and than those which are faced towards warm winds even if the distance between them is only one stadium”

There may have been some element of truth in what the Greeks believed, in that the winds do bring particular types of weather.  So whilst we know that north easterly winds don’t bring chills, croup, sore throats and so on, they may bring the conditions which allow said ailments to prosper.

In a more imaginative vein, a French scholar described the African samiel wind which was said to separate limbs from bodies.  Another horrific wind is the khamsin which leaves bodies warm, swollen and blue.  The harmattan was said to parch the skin but did actually have curative properties and finally the sirocco wind had a depressing effect, stopped digestion and killed overeaters.

Whilst I said these were more imaginative, there is again, an aspect of truth behind these fanciful sounding winds.  For example, the harmattan wind is dry, relatively cool and blows from the north east, bringing relief from the damp heat of the tropics and thus, likely provides an element of relief from certain conditions.

But this cannot explain my aversion to winds.  I am already ill, the winds do not seem to have an immediate effect on this.  Perhaps we need to return to my roots, going back further than 8 years old.  Back to when I was 8 months old.

It is 1987 and the UK is facing what will become known as The Great October Storm.  Most people are aware of it because of an infamous weather broadcast where Michael Fish joked about how a woman had called the BBC to ask if there was a Hurricane coming.

The most damaged areas were many miles away from where I was living but the sheer level of destruction sent shockwaves through the country.  My mother’s side of the family live in Kent, perhaps my reaction to this storm came, like the one when I was 8, through my mothers reaction.  I imagine it was a time of fear.  Ultimately, 18 people were killed by the storm, there was £2 billion of damage (in 1987 terms) and 15 million trees were lost, including ancient and beloved ones.  Whilst the significant destruction occurred in the South, I have found that where I was living was subject to winds of about 30mph and there was flooding in the north of England.  Perhaps, instead of the direct pain of the storm, I felt the pain of the land, of the trees, of the roots that were ripped from the soils.

But is this enough to explain my visceral reaction to gusty winds?  To the way I retreat inside myself when I have no choice but to face the wind?  I feel unsteady, unsteady of my feet but unsteady in myself, in who I am.  I feel unstable as if the person I am could blow away as easily as the autumn leaves that rush down the street. 

Watching a gale from the safety of my home, I still feel the need to withdraw from the window, to wrap myself up in a blanket, as if to hold myself together.  The wind, more so than any other weather, makes me vulnerable.  It is as if I can feel the terror of the trees that are violently buffeted back and forth, uncontrollably.  I feel exposed and as if the wind is whipping through me, as if I no longer am.

Perhaps I am not scared of the wind.  Perhaps I am afraid of disappearing.  Of being unable to hold onto myself.

Another historical reason to fear the wind comes from its link with malevolent spirits.  High winds and storms were often attributed to evil spirits or the actions of witches or the devil.  It was said that a witch could summon a storm by whistling which makes me wonder, does the whistling wind exacerbate the storm? Self summoning?

In many cultures, the wind was thought of as a god or goddess, or a collection of them, often with different gods/goddesses for the different compass directions.  For the Greeks, there were eight wind deities with four chief gods; Boreas for the north wind, Zephryos for the west, Notos for the south and Euros for the east.  Each of these chief gods were associated with a season as well.  In addition to bringing a new season, many of the wind deities were thought to bring change, both good and bad.  Perhaps this is what makes me uncomfortable, the threat of change?

Whatever the reason, the wind agitates both the land and me.  It aggravates me.  It whips under my skin and threatens the integrity of my being.  It is a monstrous, invisible threat, bringing with it cruel taunts of devastation and destruction.  The restless tempest howls, outside and inside.

As I write this, Storm Dennis is swirling in the street, hot on the heels of Storm Ciara. For someone who is not a fan of strong winds, it’s been an intense few weeks…

My interactions with nature

Since become disabled, my interaction with nature has changed.  My last couple of blog posts have raised some of the issues that come with this but it has given me an opportunity to reframe how I interact and create new ways which give me a new intimacy.

There are subtle changes in weather which once were easily overlooked – throw on a coat, grab an umbrella and so on – but which now act as a backdrop for the play that is my life.  Rain and electricity don’t mix well, so I have to be aware of this when I’m going out.  The level of precipitation dictates where I go, how I get there and even if I can go out.  Ice and snow and ungritted pavements go about as well as you can imagine.  Then there is the effect of weather on my body itself.  Warmth helps my pain levels, cold does the opposite and worst of all is when days are noticeably warmer than nights and my pain levels flare up.  Hot days stresses out my autonomic system, making me feel faint, breathless and generally yukky.

The way that the weather plays out in my life, on my body, means I am much more aware of it than I once was, much more attuned to it and by extension to the changing of the seasons.  I also find I am more aware of light levels, possibly in part because I tend to spend my morning drinking tea in the same seat.  A seat which faces into the sun as it rises over the houses and then later in the day, it reaches me from the other side, through my kitchen window.

When I am outside, whether its considered wild or not, I struggle to lose myself in my environment in the way that many people speak of doing in the wilderness.  It is not possible to engross yourself in the land around you if you are always scanning for roots and holes and puddles to avoid – this also doesn’t fit with the image of the romantic ideal of nature

“Detailed scanning of the environment is part of disability culture’s everyday adaptation and troubleshooting”
– Elizabeth  A Wheeler

There is, necessarily, a constant adjustment and awareness of the environment, a sensitivity and responsiveness to changes.  In man made worlds, that might be an intimate knowledge of where the drop kerbs are, where the pavements get too narrow for a wheelchair or where the path is in need of repair.  Take that same intense scanning into a more natural space and you will find the intimate relationship now becomes about roots and twigs and soil.  This is not capital N Nature as some people see it, but this is personal and is another model for being in nature.  One that often focuses on the smaller things in the landscape, and in doing so can mean you are attuned to other beautiful aspects such as fungi and leaves.  Back in that man made world, I see the tenacious plants that weave through the cracks in pavements and the feathers that have floated down to the tarmac.  It is a different experience, but different does not mean inferior.

“Disability narratives can widen the emotional repertoire of possible responses to nature”
– Elizabeth A Wheeler

Another way in which I connect to nature in an intimate way is through the birds that visit my bird feeder.  I have predominately house sparrow visitors and have been able to watch the parents rush back and forth taking food for their babies.  I have seen those babies venture out to sit on the bush by the feeder, waited on by mum and dad until they are old enough to get food for themselves.  One little baby pushed this and, even though I knew it could feed itself, still begged some mealworms from mum… Unless I had seen this family virtually everyday, I wouldn’t have known that was the case.

Aside, although I tend to call the sparrows my babies or the sparrow family, the correct name for a group of sparrows is a flock, but can also be called a knot, flutter, host or quarrel… I think my birds might be best described as a flutter…

Similarly, there is a single starling that has been visiting since it was a chick.  I have no idea why it has ventured here alone but it’s been incredible watching it grow and develop it’s iconic starling markings.  There have been a few scuffles between this starling and the sparrows but I’m pleased to say that in the last couple of months a peace agreement seems to have been made.  Yes, it does seem like they both give each other sly glances and they aren’t going to be best friends any time soon but on the whole it makes for a much more serene experience.  Except when the lone starling was joined by about thirty friends… It’s only happened on a couple of occasions but I did think that maybe the apocalypse had arrived… Thirty black birds descending on one small feeder less than a metre away from me, with only the window between us… The sparrows looked horrified – yes I may anthropomorphise my little babies – and because the starlings were just fighting for feeder real estate, none of them actually got any food anyway… On the last occasion, when the mob left the feeder vicinity, they joined a black cloud of other starlings and I was slightly concerned an entire murmuration might descend… thankfully they didn’t, I’m not sure the window would have stood up to that…

As well as being a great and accessible way to engage with nature, whatever the weather, bird feeders help people become more aware of their local wildlife and the types of birds that visit.  Watching them eat means I’ve got to know the different beak shapes and the different ways they use them.  Feeding birds has also been shown to change human behaviour, for example being more concerned about cats that visit the area or being more aware of a sudden increase in the number of birds.

“These human responses were in some cases tied to people’s emotions about their observations, particularly anger.”
Observations at bird feeders

If you’re thinking about getting a bird feeder, there are different options out there, some will work better than others for you and for different birds.  I currently have two bird feeders, one which is a hanging feeder that is attached to the back fence and gets filled with fat balls, and one which is stuck to my living room window and is filled with mixed seed and mealworms (it took a while to find the food that my birds like, they’re surprisingly fussy…).  I also have a couple of ceramic poppies which collect rain water, or can be filled with water in the summer.  If you’re lucky and have some privacy in your bird feeder location, you could add a camera!  I did research, it’s not ok for me to point a camera at my feeder because it takes in a large view of the pavement and street… boo!

Anyway, I hope that by touching on a couple of ways I engage with nature, I have made an argument that having a disability does not mean your interactions are inferior.  I also want to make the point that more inclusive ways of engaging with nature are more accessible to people who might not go hiking or bird watching otherwise.

Rainbows in culture

Part one and two

Having seen in previous blog posts that rainbows are not universally seen positively, it may not be so much of a shock to find that even within Europe, views have been divisive.

“Rainbow superstitions in Britain and Ireland reveal an ambivalence that is difficult to synthesize or explain.”
– The Penguin Guide to the Supersitions of Britain and Ireland, Steve Roud

Modern beliefs tend to be positive – make a wish on a rainbow, the pot of gold etc – but others are darker, with Scotland and Ireland having a pessimistic view.  A rainbow over a house was thought to be a sign of death.  Some people believe that it is unlucky to point at the moon and the stars and this extended to rainbows as well.


Rainbows are an obvious choice for poetry and it doesn’t take long to find some wonderful lines:

“Be thou the rainbow to the storms of life!”
– Lord Byron

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!”
– William Wordsworth

Similarly, rainbows have featured in art for many many years, right back to 2000-4000 BCE.  However, painting a rainbow was not without controversy.  For a lot of history, there was an idea that rainbows were unpaintable and to attempt one “was often a self-conscious act of mastery – or even of hubris – and was usually seen as such by the contemporaries of those artists who dared to try.” (MacCannell)

Flags are another common place to find rainbows, most famously in the LGBT+ flag.  The original flag had eight colours:

  • Hot pink for sexuality
  • Red for life
  • Orange for healing
  • Yellow for sunlight
  • Green for nature
  • Turquoise for magic and art
  • Indigo for serenity
  • Violet for spirit

Turquoise and hot pink were removed by 1979 for cost reasons.

Rainbows have also been used to symbolise peace and unity.  Since 1921, a rainbow flag has been used to represent the international cooperative movement, with each colour having a meaning.

Today we tend to see rainbows as a scientifically understood phenomena, as awe-inspiring and as kitsch.  To minimise the depth of the rainbow and see them in an emoticon kind of way is to miss out on so much of this incredibly wonder of the natural world.  Rainbows should inspire you to stop, to stare and to wonder.  Perhaps instead of thinking them as light diffracted through a raindrop, we should think of them as miracles drawn on the sky, just for us.  After all, they are uniquely experienced and that is a gift, personalised just for you.



Rainbows and mythology

Part one

Rainbows feature in a variety of types of myth, and starting with end of the world myths we find rainbows popping up in a number of seemingly disconnected cultures, including northern India, parts of Canada and Argentina.

In Judeo-Christian lore, the rainbow is associated the flood.  After the flood, God set his bow in the clouds as a “token of covenant”.  In medieval Christianity, they were depicted in art showing the apocalypse as well as as a bow (a weapon, not gift wrapping). This rainbow as a bow concept was the case elsewhere in the world, with the Sanskrit word for rainbow literally meaning ‘the bow of Indra’ (one of the Hindu gods).

“The English language cannot describe a rainbow without reference to [the bow]: the ‘bow-ness’ of the bow intractably, implausibly, indestructibly remains.”
– Daniel MacCannell


Elsewhere in the world, the rainbow has been seen as part of a deity, such as a mythical belt, a necklace and so on.  Rainbows as cosmic architectures, such as those in the Norse myths, are also well known but there is also the rainbow pathway that the goddess Iris uses to move between the mortal and the heavenly worlds.

“Among the American tribes, as well as among the Aryans, the rainbow and the Milky-Way have contributed the idea of a Bridge of the Dead, over which souls must pass on the way to the other world.”
Myths and Myth-Makers, John Fiske (1873 hence language used)

Another way we can see rainbows in myth is as rainbow beings such as the snake-monster from the Mbuti people of the Democratic Republic of Congo – a man killer that creates catastrophes and generally inspires terror.  Another terrifying rainbow creature is the serpent Magalim from New Guinea who causes madness and malaria when not busy swallowing people.  Dangerous rainbow serpents can also be found in South America, including the Panare from Venezuela who use the same word to mean both rainbow and were-anaconda…

There is also the rainbow snake found in Aboriginal Australian mythology and that brings us onto the unexpected subject of dragons

Some historians suggest a link between rainbows and dragons and this is investigated in depth by Robert Blust.  He says that the dragon is the end point of a developing concept which began with rainbows and moved through the rainbow serpent to become the dragons we are more familiar with today, especially those from china.  But this link may seem counter intuitive when seen through a Western lens:

“Within the Judeo-Christian tradition the rainbow is the bow of the covenant, a sign of divine promise and hope; by contrast the dragon is a sinister relic of the pre-Christian past.”
– Robert Blust

The rainbow serpent is a giant snake whose body arches like a rainbow across the sky.  They are associated with the gift of blood, controlling the circulation of blood as well as menstrual cycles.

“The rainbow is most commonly represented in one of four ways:

As a celestial bow

As a bridge between heaven and earth

As a belt, scarf or other article of apparel of a deity

As a giant snake.

By far the most common view is that the rainbow is a giant snake which either drinks water from the Earth and sprays it over the sky (this causing it to rain), or that drinks from the sky (causing it to stop).”
– Blust

It is easy to lean into this idea given that rainbows are often associated with the beginning or end of a rain shower.  As our ancestors sought to explain and understand the world around them, natural phenomena were often personified and given the shape of a rainbow, a serpent is an obvious choice.  Understanding the rainbow as a giant snake, it’s not too far of a leap to see why it might have developed into a dragon, especially the more serpentine Chinese dragons.


Rainbows, a colourful history

Note, this is part one of three as it turned into a rather long post…  Later posts will look at mythology and superstitions around rainbows.

If you follow me on Instagram you may have noticed an abundance of rainbows.  I’m doing a little photo project that was sparked as a result of a gorgeous rainbow selection of tea and a day where I saw multiple rainbows, including one that seemed like we were driving through the base of it – spoiler, there was no gold, no leprechauns, just one Irish carer…


Anyway, alongside that project, I wanted to find out more about how rainbows feature in cultures and how they have been used symbolically, as well as how our understanding of rainbows has changed over time.

One of the things I love about rainbows is how people still view them with awe and how they can bring smiles to tired faces.

If you want to know more about how rainbows are formed, then the Met Office has some brief, easy to understand information.  One of the things I love is that conditions must be just right for a rainbow to be seen, and that feels very special to me.

  • The sun needs to be behind the viewer
  • The sun needs to be low in the sky, at an angle of less than 42° above the horizon. The lower the sun in the sky the more of an arc of a rainbow the viewer will see
  • Rain, fog or some other source of water droplets must be in front of the viewer

Another aspect of rainbows is that no one can see the same one, even if someone is standing next to you, they will not see the exact rainbow you see.  This combined with the specific conditions necessary to create one makes it feel like seeing a rainbow is a personal gift.

“The rainbow that a cloudspotter sees standing in one position is never the same as that observed from another one.  The droplets that are over in the direction of the arc – perhaps a half to one and a half miles away – each sparkle a bit of sunlight into his eyes.  From the drops that fall through the sky off in some directions, it is the yellow-looking part of the spectrum that twinkles at the cloudspotter.  From those in other directions, it is the violet, etc.  This means that, should the observer change position, different raindrops will be the ones sparkling at him.  Hopefully, this will help cloudspotters accept that it is a futile and, frankly humiliating aspiration to seek the end of a rainbow.”
– The Cloudspotter’s Guide, Gavin Pretor-Pinney

Today we tend to think of rainbows having seven colours, we may remember them through a mnemonic like Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain, but the number is actually arbitrary and has changed over time.  Research suggests that the number of colours seen is about the language that person uses, if a language has fewer colour words then they will see fewer colours.


As far back as 3rd to 2nd century BCE, people were trying to describe the rainbow but Aristotle was the first to give a complete description and he identified three colours.  The idea of there being three colours was justified in a number of ways including the three stages of events (beginning, middle and end), the three dimensions of space and the use of the number three in the worship of gods.

Later Newton would claim there were five colours, namely red, yellow, green, blue and violet but he would go on to add orange and indigo.  This created a seven colour scale analogous to the notes in a musical scale.  Despite this being the accepted idea today, it was considered heretical at the time.    Newton would also suggest that all of the colours of the rainbow are found in white light, a concept which provides a great metaphor for humanity.

In my next post I’ll be looking at how rainbows feature in mythology.


December’s reading

“Clouds running across the face of a waning moon.  Distant flashes of lightening.  I know what it is, a “warm front”, etc. And who cares what the weather may be? It is money that cares about weather and pays to predict it, perhaps some day to control it. And who wants a world in which weather is controlled by money?”
– Thomas Merton

December’s reading has been a little restricted.  I found it impossible to concentrate whilst I was in hospital and despite now being out, I am still very very limited in what I can eat so I’m rather tired and not sleeping well.

However, I have read (or at least started reading) The Weather Experiment by Peter Moore and The Cloudspotters Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, both excellent starts for weather related reading.

Other useful resources have included the Future Learn weather course, the Met Office, Folklore Thursday and the Open Learn Surviving the Winter course.  There are also a lot of links within individual posts so if a particular topic is of interest I’d suggest you try there.  From a literature point of view, I drew a lot on my GCSE and A Level English Literature as well as my wide range of reading material.  I’m intrigued as to whether I will notice weather more when reading fiction in the future…

A website I didn’t have time to look at properly but which I think would be useful and shine a different light on weather is Living In The Weather World:

[Living in the weather world] is for researchers, teachers, students, and school children who want to build a sense of connectedness with the natural world, both the slowly changing world of plants, animals and the physical environment, and the faster changing world of the weather, as they come together into one weather-world.

Another book I haven’t read is Where The Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt.

TV wise, Inside the Met Office and Volitile Earth (both on 4OD) were interesting, there are a large number of weather related disaster films (and don’t forget the Wizard of Oz) and these short youtube videos are also worth a watch:

There were lots of other weather related topics I wanted to look at this month but they shall wait for another time.  One of these was a post which I hoped would echo What can we learn from the fog? but with a different type of weather, probably rain.  I might return to this on a wet and windy day when I have a bit more energy.  But for now, as we enter January, we turn from rain and wind to the birds which fly through them.

Just a little proud boast; I’ve written over 82,000 words in my nature and writing project so far despite a host of challenges and am feeling pretty satisfied.  Whilst word count is irrelevant, especially for this, it does give me a sense of achievement.

Get your head in the clouds

I am reading the amazing and comprehensive The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.  I had hoped to be able to take you on a tour of the ten main types of clouds but the hospital stay means I’m a bit behind in my reading and my learning so I’ll be focusing on the lower clouds.  That is the cumulus, cumulonimbus, status and stratocumulus.  If you’re interested in clouds and want to know about the rest of them then do buy his book and check out the Cloud Appreciation Society website.  My writings here are informed by other sources including the Future Learn Learn About Weather course which was run alongside the met office.

“Nothing in nature rivals [clouds] variety and drama; nothing matches their sublime, ephemeral beauty.”
– Pretor-Pinney


Flying through the clouds

Clouds and the sky are scattered through our language.  We talk of there being not a cloud in the sky, of having a grey cloud above us, of silver linings and blue sky thinking.  We create image after image of gods and goddesses sitting on the clouds.  But how often do most of us actually look up and see them?  We should.  Pretor-Pinney describes clouds as “nature’s poetry”, as “expressions of the atmosphere’s moods” and from a practical point, learning about clouds helps you know what the weather might do next.

One of the wonderful things about clouds is their impermanence.  They are almost always changing, transforming, becoming what they want or racing over the sky towards their next adventure.


A little latin comes in handy here, cumulus is the word for heap and this is a good description of a cumulus cloud.  These are like the clouds that children draw, like heaps of cotton wool scattered across the sky.

Cumulus clouds, in Hinduism and Buddhism, are the spiritual cousins of elephants. And elephants are said to have the power to bring rain so are, or were, worshipped and prayed to in order to bring the monsoon rains.

Interesting fact: a medium sized cumulus cloud ways about the same as 80 elephants.

It’s easy to forget that clouds are made up of water droplets, until it rains that is.  But we don’t need to worry here, cumulus clouds are generally associated with good weather.  It’s the cumulonimbus you need to be aware of…


Extreme.  Destructive.  Stormy.  Violent.  That is the cumulonimbus.

It is these clouds which bring rain, hail, snow, lightening, gales, tornadoes and devastation.  They can injure and they can kill.

They can be taller than Mount Everest and can contain energy equivalent to ten Hiroshima sized bombs.

This is undoubtably the Kind of the Clouds.

This is the playground bully who didn’t need or want any friends.

Aside from the cues from the weather, you can tell a cumulonimbus by it’s size and the classic formation has a top which spreads out and looks like a blacksmith’s anvil.  Because this cloud needed more weaponry…

Interesting fact: This is the cloud that you’d be on if you were on cloud nine.  When The International Cloud Atlas was published in 1896 it was ninth on the list.  And whilst it doesn’t sound like a cloud you’d want to be anywhere near, the saying has probably come about because it is the tallest of clouds.

If you want to know what it’s like to be in one of these nasty beasts, read about William Rankin who had to eject from his plane above one of them.


Stratus clouds seem a bit like the relation that no one really likes… They are the flat, slow moving clouds which blanket the sky and don’t give you much to look up for.  They epitomise the overcast, dreary day.  To give you a feel for them, when they form at ground level they are called fog or mist.


These are low patchy clouds with well defined bases, looking a bit like candyfloss.  They might appear as clumps and their colour varies from bright white to dark grey.  Occasionally they will bring light rain or snow.

An extreme example is the Morning Glory, a cloud which forms in Australia and which extreme cloud watchers, but more often gliders, travel great distances to see.  This cloud can be as big as Britain….!

Lots of useful links